Saturday, September 17, 2016


"Oh my goodness," Grandma Crystal said, staring at the headlines of the online newspaper, Chestertown Spy.  "Look at this!"  She turned her laptop so Ro and Jo could see. 
"Grandma, isn't that Fountain Park, where the Farmers' Market is?"
"Yes that certainly is Fountain Park, but I don't know if the Farmers' Market will happen tomorrow with all this going on!"
Ro and Jo pulled their chairs up close to the table until they both could see the picture and read the story that Grandma Crystal was so upset about. 
"Wow!  All you can see is the fountain!  Everything else is covered with sheep!"  Ro said, beginning to read the article below the picture.  "They might not have the Farmers' Market tomorrow if they can't make the sheep go back to wherever they came from!" 
"That would be terrible!" Jo said.  "All the farmers, bakers, sewers, wood carvers and artists wouldn't be able to sell their stuff.  The fruit and vegetables would go bad before next week." 
"True.  And all the people that come to the Farmers' Market to shop would waste their time and their gas," Ro agreed.  "Maybe we could do something to help," she suggested, looking at her magical brother and waggling her eyebrows, giving him a hint that she was suggesting something Team RoJo-ish. 
Jo got the hint.  "Oh, we could do something to help," he said, nodding sagely. 
"What are you guys up to?" Grandma Crystal asked, tilting her head, looking at them with great suspicion. 
The children smiled innocently, and Jo said, "You'll see," in a mysterious tone of voice that made Grandma Crystal even more suspicious.  She rolled her eyes.  "You guys be careful," she said as they headed for the attic.  She knew what they were up to. "If you go where I think you're going, don't forget to wear your hoodies," she called, and they both called "okay!" from halfway up the stairs. 
Once in the attic, with the hoodies they'd gotten from their duffels, they hurried to the crystal ball.  When they were at Grandma Crystal's they brought the ball with them from the fort.  It seemed at home here in Grandma Crystal's attic where it had lived so long before Grandma Crystal had turned it over to Ro and Jo to pursue their adventures. 
Already, as if it knew before Ro and Jo had even reached the attic, the crystal ball was filled with swirling, magical mist that began to clear just as Jo and Ro reached the table upon which it sat in its silver, mystical moon stand to keep it from rolling away (and it most certainly would, that crystal ball could be tricky!). 
The children watched as the mists cleared and little by little Chestertown – particularly Fountain Park – appeared.  Just like in the picture in the online newspaper, there were sheep everywhere!  All over the park where Grandma Crystal and all of her Farmers' Market friends set up their tables and sold their wares. 
"Holy moly!" Ro said, watching the sheep mill about, nibbling at the grass, baaing at each other, talking in sheep language. 
"We've gotta do something," Jo said, smiling in spite of the dire situation.  He liked sheep, thinking they're kindof puffy and cute. 
"Yep.  You ready?" Ro said, and when Jo nodded she took his hand and they stood facing the crystal ball.  "Do your thing," she said softly to the sheep-filled orb. 

Gradually they faded out of Grandma Crystal's attic and into Chestertown's Fountain Park…
…and Jo ended up straddling a sheep and sitting on it as if it were a small, fluffy pony!
Ro laughed behind her hand, not wanting to embarrass her brother or hurt his feelings, but funny was funny and that's how he looked sitting on that sheep! 
Soon they both giggled hysterically, and then, remembering the serious mission that they were on, Jo climbed off the sheep, who baaed.
"I hope I didn't hurt your back," Jo said to the sheep, that swung its head left and right and said, to Ro and Jo's amazement, "It's okay.  It was an accident."
"You can talk??" Jo gasped, his eyes wide with surprise. 
"Are you really all that surprised?" Ro said to her brother.  "I mean, we've seen all kinds of magical creatures.  Sheep talking isn't such a biggie." 
"Well there goes my claim to fame!" grumbled the sheep.  "I was going to go to a TV producer in a few weeks and reveal my talking ability!  I guess you blew that for me!" the sheep complained, sounding pretty darned grumpy. 
"Oh no! I didn't mean for most people, just us.  Jo and I – and our family and some of our friends – have seen all sorts of magical creatures.  A TV producer wouldn’t have a clue.  You're good to go," Ro explained to the sheep, who nodded, fully understanding everything she said. 
"Well that's different, I guess," the sheep said, his attitude immediately changing back to his usual pleasant self. 
Jo, seeing how nicely Ro had communicated with the sheep, decided to get right to the point.  After all, the Farmers' Market started early in the morning, and they had less than a day to shoo all the sheep from the small town park – and that was a lot of sheep shooing, I'll tell you! 
"Why are all of you guys here in Chestertown?" he asked the soothed sheep. 
"Well, you know how it is, one or two sheep come up with a great idea, and everybody else piles on." 
Ro and Jo listened politely, but were still confused.  Ro asked, "What great idea was that?"
"There were half a dozen of us eating weeds in Old Man Gusset's yard the other day, and got to talking.  That's all we ever eat – weeds.  Farmer Amos rents us out to his neighbors to eat up the weeds and stuff in their yards.  We can eat as much as we want, but it's always the same stuff. 
"The other day he was talking about which crops he was harvesting, which vegetables he was going to sell and which he would be canning for the winter. We all started to drool when he was talking about the vegetables; right guys?" he cast a backward glance toward his friends crowded in behind him, and they all nodded.  Ro and Jo could hear them mumbling, "right…yeah…that's what happened…he's tellin' the truth there." 
"We know all about Chestertown – we chew up weeds in all the yards around here.  We even helped out right here in Fountain Park last fall when the town wanted a green alternative to using tractors and mowers that run on gas," the sheep continued. 
"So you're only here for the vegetables?" Ro asked when the sheep stopped to take a breath and collect his thoughts. 
"Sure.  What else would we have walked all this way for?" the sheep replied. 
"You can see that there's no room for the farmers to set up their market in the morning, right?" Jo asked. 
"Yeah, we can see that.  But when we started into town, there were only seven of us.  Some others started following us out of curiosity, and we don't know where those silly goats came from!" 
Ro giggled.  "They're probably sick of weeds too.  Our Nana rented some goats from Farmer Jim last month to gobble her yard a bit over on Knight Island." 
"This whole thing was supposed to be a nice little outing to the Farmers' Market for some veggie treats, and it's turned into sort of a sheep protest march against lack of variety in our diets." 
Ro and Jo smiled at one another.  Even sheep were concerned about nutrition these days. 
"I can see the sheep's point, but if you all try and hang out in town together, the Farmers' Market won't be able to set up, there will be no vegetables here, and you will have defeated your own purpose,"  Ro said, very reasonably. 
"That's true, but the whole thing is out of control.  How can we get through to all these sheep at once?" the sheep said, his eyes sad and desperate. 
Ro and Jo shook their heads, and Ro said, "What a mess." 
Then Jo perked up, smiling and said, "messes are kindof my thing," to his sister, wiggling his fingers, and she smiled back at him, totally getting what he meant. 
She turned to the flock of sheep (she had to turn almost all the way around in a complete circle to get all of them to look at her and listen) and said, "Okay, listen up!  Jo and I understand that you would like more variety in your meals, right?"
Excited baas and nods from all the sheep – and mind you, that was a lot of baaing and nodding!
"Okay!  You understand that if you stay here, all of you, that the farmers can't bring their vegetables here, and you will have to go home and eat weeds, right?" 
The baas sounded confused.  Ro continued.  "If you all turn around and go home now, when we come with Grandma Crystal to the Farmers' Market tomorrow morning, we will explain to all the farmers that you would like some vegetables along with your weeds.  I'm sure they will understand." 
"Suppose they won't give us the veggies? Then we're all back where we started!  We should protest!" came from the middle of the herd of fuzzballs. 
"No!  We should give the farmers a chance!  Let the kid talk to them!" another voice from the middle of the group. 
"If the farmers don't cough up the veggies, we'll come back here next week and protest, with even more of us!" a third voice shouted from somewhere toward the back of the flock. 
The baas were less angry, and almost all the sheep nodded in agreement.
"Okay, young lady, you can have your chance to talk to the farmers.  Thank you for helping us out," the sheep that had been talking to Ro and Jo all along said. 
"What's your name?" Jo asked the sheep. 
"Sherlock," the sheep replied and Ro snickered.  
"You mean like Sherlock Holmes?" she asked, recognizing the name from some books that Poppop had at his house. 
"The very one.  My mama used to nibble on Sherlock Holmes books all the time when Farmer Amos stored them in the barn. She said they tasted intelligent." 
Ro and Jo giggled, and shook their heads at what silly Sherlock had to say. 
"What are you laughing at?" Sherlock said, sounding insulted.  "I think that's why I can talk – why many of us can talk – because our parents ate books whenever they could and absorbed all those words and all that knowledge!"
Jo nodded, his lips pursed, thinking that over.  "I never thought about it that way before.  You may have a point."
"Maybe instead of fixing food, tonight, we'll just bake up the recipe book!" Ro said, her voice still a little giggly. 
Sherlock rolled his eyes and said, "Whatever," knowing the children weren't taking him very seriously.  But that was okay.  If they got him vegetables and talked to all the farmers tomorrow, they could poke a little fun at him.  He wasn't a baby afraid to laugh at himself. 
Ro bent to scratch behind Sherlock's ears, and petted him gently. "We didn't mean to hurt your feelings.  Eating books just sounds so weird, that's all.  Maybe we should change the way we do our homework. Instead of reading our assignments, from now on we'll tear them out of the books, dip them in a little ranch dressing and gobble them up, huh Jo?"
Jo smiled.  "worth a shot.  A lot faster – and tastier! – then reading them!
"Your tummies would be sick from all that paper.  I understand you get a lot of homework." 
"Yeah, you're probably right," Ro said.  "Okay, back to the point.  You guys all have to skedaddle, right now, and go to your farms.  We will talk to the farmers tomorrow morning, and by tomorrow afternoon you'll be eating high on the hog!"
"Wait!  What's that about eating hogs?  Sheep don't like bacon!  Gives us heartburn!  We're vegetarians!"
"No!  No!  It's just an expression!  It means…oh, never mind!  I just meant you'll be eating well – lots of different veggies, just like you want," Ro explained.
The sheep all nodded, understanding, and calming down.  As they promised, they all turned toward the street and started making their way out of the park. 
But all of a sudden, after a few moments, the whole flock stopped moving.  They were stuck!  When they all tried to get down the street at once, they didn't fit! 
"Oh no!" Ro and Jo said at once.  "What are we going to do now?"
Jo thought about it for a few seconds, and then snapped his fingers as an idea struck him.  "I know!" he said to Ro, and then turned to the sheep and shouted, "okay, listen up again!"
The sheep turned back toward the children and stopped their grunting and baaing, hoping to hear an answer to their problem. 
"How many here belong to Farmer Amos?"
Baas bellowed out, and Jo could see several sheep's heads stretching up above the crowd.  When Jo saw them, he raised his arms to shoulder height and began wiggling his fingers in the air. 
Suddenly all of Farmer Amos' sheep rose up out of the flock and floated in mid-air above their friends.  At first they baaed in panic, never having had all of their feet off the ground at the same time before, but then, realizing they were safe, they baaed in amazement, kind of liking being able to fly!
When the sheep seemed comfortable enough floating up in the air, Jo began to move his hands in a shooing gesture, in the direction of Farmer Amos' farm.  His sheep began to float in that direction, like big wooly balloons, and with Ro planting her visions of the sheep in his head, Jo brought the animals safely down onto the ground again in Farmer Amos' yard. 
All the rest of the sheep in the park started baaing in excitement, all wanting to be next to fly. 
Ro and Jo giggled as the puffy animals crowded around them.  "Okay, you guys need to relax and give us some breathing room," Jo said.  "Everyone will get a turn, I promise!" 
The sheep calmed down as they'd been told, still excited about flying, but trusting Jo to keep his word. 
And sure enough, little group by little group, all the sheep got to fly. 
"Okay," Jo said, "I got them all home before dark." 
"Yes, you certainly did," Ro said. "Now we have to get us home before dark, or Grandma Crystal will worry." 
They held hands and closed their eyes, and the crystal ball mists swirled about them.  They felt their feet lift off the bricks of the Fountain Park path, and then they knew they were in Grandma Crystal's attic.  It was warmer there, and they smelled a little dust, old books, and whatever Grandma Crystal was whipping up for dinner which smelled wonderful. 

The next morning Ro and Jo, just like they promised, talked to all the farmers at the market. 
"Well now!  I wondered where all those critters got to yesterday!  And then they all came back!  Weirdest thing ever!" Farmer Amos blurted, a laugh blasting from him at the end of his last sentence.  "Sheep are crazy.  But you say they want more vegetables?"
"Yes sir, that's what they said," Jo replied.
"Well aren't you polite, calling me 'sir' and all," the farmer said, smiling at Jo and ruffling his hair.  And then what Jo had said sunk in.  "What do you mean 'that's what they said,' son? Sheep can't talk." 
Ro nudged Jo, annoyed that he'd blown the sheep's secret. She answered for her brother.  "He meant that when we were here yesterday, the sheep seemed hungry, and they ate some vegetables out of our hands.  They seemed to like the vegetables very much.  It seemed to us like they were all here waiting for the Farmers' Market to happen.  What else would sheep be looking for at a Farmers' Market but vegetables?" 
"Nice save," Jo whispered out the side of his mouth to Ro so that only she could hear. 
"I see," Farmer Amos said, rubbing his chin, thinking over what he'd been told.  "Well, seems logical to me. I guess I can understand why sheep would get tired of eating nothing but weeds.  It would bore the stuffins out of me too, I guess.  I guess when I get home I'll dish out some veggies for the critters." 
"Thank you, Farmer Amos!  I'm sure your sheep will be much happier!" Ro said, relieved and delighted that Farmer Amos had listened and decided to give into the sheep's request.
As Ro and Jo made their way around the entire Farmers' Market, talking to every single farmer who had sheep living on their farms, they became happier and happier, because they knew all their new, wooly friends would be having vegetables and even fruits for supper.   
Everyone had kept their promise, Chestertown Farmers' Market was saved, and sheep for miles had happier tummies! 
Ro and Jo high-fived in Grandma Crystal's attic on Saturday afternoon after Ro had entered the story in the Family Journal. 
And then they went downstairs to help Grandma Crystal turn Farmers' Market veggies into a giant salad for dinner.  Yum! 

TD – 9/17/2016

Sunday, September 11, 2016


"I don't get it," Sir WHIP's fearsome (sometimes) brows frowned in confusion.  You've ridden on the backs of majestic and magical creatures – owls and dragons! – and yet you want to drift around helplessly, not to mention s-l-o-w-l-y, through the sky all morning?  What's up with that?" 

  "Silly! Because it's a beautiful day, and riding a balloon slowly through the sky leaves our hands free to take pictures instead of holding on for dear life while you show off your loop-de-loop skills," Ro laughingly explained, patting Sir WHIP's cheek with great affection, and then tied a hoodie by its sleeves around her waist.  She grabbed her sunglasses and headed into the living room to see who else was ready.  The sun was just turning the sky a pinkish gray, so they needed to get going very soon or they would be late.

"I can fly slow and smooth," Sir WHIP said, following Ro into the kitchen to grab a juice pack and slice of peanut butter bread. 

She turned to face him eye to eye (he'd made himself just about her height) and said, "I know you can, but it's still a different thing.  I love flying with you.  It's exciting and giggly and I know that you will protect me wherever we go.  But a balloon ride is…just…different.  It's like going for a ride in the car.  You could get us there faster every time, but it's fun to ride with the family and look out the windows, play car games and plan what we'll do when we get to our destination."

Sir WHIP shook his head.  "Still don't get it." 

"Well then, why don't you come with us as see for yourself?"

"Oh sure, they probably don't even let dragons ride in balloons!"

"Sure they do, if the dragon in question shrinks himself into a pocket and pretends to be a toy dragon!" Ro hinted, and Sir WHIP pursed his lips and nodded, considering. 

"Hmmm.  I guess it would be more exciting than sitting around here all morning," he said. 

"That's the spirit!" Ro said, and when Sir WHIP had shrunken himself down to action figure size, she picked him up and headed for Jo's room. 

"Does your shirt have a pocket?" she asked her brother. 

"Uh oh," Jo said, smiling.  "Somebody wants to hitch a ride?" he asked, looked pointedly at Sir WHIP, nestled in the crook of Ro's arm, sitting on his butt, his sparkly orange tail sticking through the fold of her arm behind him, his tiny arms folded behind his head, cozy and safe in his friend's care. 

"You got it.  I think he's feeling a little left out and confused about why the family would want to fly with anyone but him – or BEN Owl."

"Dude, it's just different." Jo echoed his sister's earlier words, to Sir WHIP's frustration.  He allowed Jo to scoop him out of his temporary seat in Ro's arm, and tuck him neatly into his shirt pocket. 

"Nice shirt," Sir WHIP said, admiring the orange color that he blended into, making him not so noticeable.  Should he blink or move a little it would probably go unseen unless someone was really paying close attention.  Otherwise, Jo was just a little boy with a dragon toy. 

Just as he and his friends planned. 

When Jo and Ro returned to the living room, Mom and Dad were waiting.  The children picked their napkin-wrapped peanut butter bread up off the coffee table, and their Capris Suns, and followed their parents to the car – on top of which, BEN Owl awaited them.  Dad shook his head. 

"Two magical flying creatures who can zip off to any place in the world they want to go with literally no preparation except resting first, and they want to home in on our balloon ride," Dad teased, noticing a sparkly orange dragon head sticking out of Jo's shirt pocket.  "Go figure.  BEN Owl, just to keep the cost of this ride down to a dull roar, how about if you fly up and land on Ro's shoulder once the balloon is airborne?"

"What a marvelous idea!  That will be an exciting surprise for your pilot!" BEN Owl agreed. "I shall fly along with your car to the balloon ride site, and then perch in a tree until you've taken off."

Everyone was on their way within a minute and a half, chattering about what they might see, and how the balloon worked, and whether they would have anything to do to help the pilot and crew take off. 

"So the whole thing works by using fire to heat the air and make it warm inside the balloon?" Jo asked, glancing at Dad's face in the rear view mirror, and then out the window at BEN Owl flying above his side of the car. 

"Yep.  Hot air rises.  When it's inside the balloon, it makes the balloon float up into the sky," Mom explained. 

"Cool!" Jo said, not fully understanding, but knowing his mom was smart and knew a lot of the science stuff. 

"Alarming!  Depending on a little puff of hot air to drag you into the sky," Sir WHIP muttered from Jo's pocket as Dad pulled into the field where the hot air balloon's crew was unfurling the giant, orange balloon with purple polka dots. 

"Hi!  I'm Nelson, your pilot.  You were running a little behind schedule for launch, so we, that is my crew, Tina, Beak, and Andrea, got the basket and burner all set up, and are unfurling the balloon now.  Want to help?" 

"Sure!" Ro and Jo shouted at once, thrilled to be part of the team. 

"Oooh!  I love the colors!" Ro said, admiring the bright purple and orange being carefully unrolled on the ground. 

"Yeah!  Cool!" Jo echoed his sister, smiling at their two favorite colors, together in the balloon's fabric. 

"Okay," Nelson said to Ro and Jo, once the balloon was all stretched out on the ground.  "You guys grab the top edge of that side of the envelope (that's what that part of the balloon is called), and lift it about shoulder high, okay?"

"Done!" Jo said as he and Ro followed directions. 

"Could Mom and Dad please turn on the fans?  We fill the balloon with cool air first, to get it opened up and inflated," Nelson explained. 

Mom and Dad each turned on a fan, while Andrea attached the parachute valve at the top of the balloon, as it started to take its giant shape and look like a balloon instead of a huge round blanket on the field. 

Once the balloon was filled with air, the pilot turned on the burner that made big flames!  Slowly, the balloon began to rise up! 

"We'd better hurry and get in!" Jo said, a little panicky, but Tina laughed and patted his shoulder. 

"Don't worry," she said.  "It's not going anywhere without you!  When it's floating upright, you and your family can climb on into the basket and get started on your tour." 

Tina was right.  Soon the balloon hovered over top of the basket, and Nelson climbed in, then helped Ro, Jo, (and unbeknownst to Nelson, stowaway Sir WHIP), Mom, and Dad in along with him. 

BEN Owl, perched in a tree across the road from the large field, watched as Tina, Beak, and Andrea secured remaining equipment onto the now balloon-less trailer and climbed into the truck.  They would follow the balloon as it floated through the sky, and be there when it landed to help deflate and fold it up and take it home. 

Ro, Jo, Mom, and Dad listened carefully as Nelson went over a few things about safety on board the balloon. 

"Over the Rainbow Balloons," is the name of our company, and while I am your pilot today, Tina, Beak, and Andrea are also all certified balloon pilots, with lots of experience taking people up on tours. 

"We go to a special class called a refresher safety seminar every year to make sure we remember everything to keep ourselves and our passengers safe when we float.  We are required to drug test regularly, and always pass those tests with flying colors because the only high we care about is how far our balloons rise into the sky. 

"Our balloons and equipment are inspected according to FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requirements every year and safety requirement checklists are used every single flight.  We get an FAA weather briefing before every flight, and we only fly during perfect weather. 

"Have you all read the safety brochures you were sent when you signed up for the flight?"

Ro began reciting the brochure, seeing it in her mind:

  1. Passengers may be asked by the crew or pilot for assistance so that they will feel included in the flight. 
  2. Never let your feet be lifted off the ground while holding the balloon. 
  3. Keep clear of the truck and trailer when equipment is being unloaded.
  4. Stay away from the fans and balloon tie-off lines, to avoid injury. 
  6. Follow all instructions from the balloon crew. 
  7. No leaning over or sitting on the side rail.
  8. Stay in the position where you are told. 
  9. No shouting, because that can be mistaken as distress by people on the ground and they may dial 911. 
  10.  Move gently so as not to jostle the basket. 
  11.  Do not throw or drop anything from the basket. 
  12.  Be on the lookout for power lines or other obstacles – the pilot or crew will probably already have seen them, but it's always safer for everyone to be alert, especially during landing.  Look for telephone poles when wires are difficult to see. 
  13.  During landing,
    1. make sure everything is stowed away in your pockets or camera bags – sometimes the basket will bounce or even tip and it's safer if everything is put away. 
    2. No filming during the landing because passengers must have their hands free to hold on. 
    3. Place your back in the direction of travel.  Hold tight to the rigid upright.  Keep your knees together and slightly bent to absorb the landing shock. 
    4. Keep your hands and arms inside the basket. 
    5. After landing do not get out of the basket until told to by the pilot because the loss of weight can allow the balloon to take off again. 
    6. Be absolutely respectful to owners of the fields where we land.  If they happen to be Amish, we will not have a champagne toasts or take pictures out of respect for their religion." 

Nelson beamed in approval.  "Excellent, Ro!  You memorized the whole thing!"

Ro took a little bow, grateful for her magical power. She liked Nelson, who moved to begin the flight by activating the burner, making the balloon lighter and gasps came from everyone as the basket they stood in lifted off the ground. 

"Here we go!" said Nelson, smiling. 

Soon the huge orange and purple balloon skimmed through the sky, riding the wind, and Jo took a deep breath of fresh, morning air.  "It's so quiet up here," he said softly.  "I thought it would be windier, noisier." 

"Oh no," Nelson said.  "If it were that windy we wouldn't be able to fly.  This is a perfect day to float through the sky, isn't it?" 

Everyone agreed, each looking out over Media, Pennsylvania, trying to figure out where everything was. 

"Look, Ro and Jo, there is your school, and over there is our house!  And there is Walmart, the gas station where we get our gas." Dad said, pointing out main roads and buildings. 

"So cool!" Ro said, and Jo nodded, both of their eyes following Dad's pointing finger. 

"And look," Mom said, pointing as well.  "There's the park we go to with Brie and Kato."

They saw it all, and pointed and laughed and had a great time. 

Suddenly, with a great swoosh, a large owl swooped toward the basket of the balloon and landed on Ro's shoulder, startling the holy moly out of Nelson, until he realized that Ro was giggling and stroking the belly of the night bird. 

"I take it your friend will be joining us for the flight?" Nelson asked Ro who giggled a little more, nodding. 

"Well, since he can come and go under his own power, he is more than welcome to rest here on your shoulder, though I'm thinking he's already seen most of the sights we're admiring," Nelson said, reaching over to stroke BEN Owl's belly, cautiously, deeply respecting the beak and talons of the predator bird. 

Jo noticed Nelson's carefulness, and reassured him.  "Don't worry.  BEN Owl is a member of our family and very friendly. 

"That's amazing!" Nelson said, taking a moment to greet his new passenger – but only a moment, and then returned his full attention back to the propane burner.  He increased the heat a little bit to raise the balloon higher into the air, and they drifted along in their warm basket for half an hour or so, the views slowly changing, but all were beautiful. 

Even Sir WHIP had to admit, in Jo's ear when he bent to hear the tiny dragon in his pocket speak, that it was beautiful and peaceful up here in the balloon's basket.  "Sometimes I'm concentrating on flying and steering, I don't really appreciate the scenery," he whispered.

About half an hour later Nelson tried to readjust the burner mechanism, and frowned.  Nothing happened, and the balloon was beginning to sink. "Oh my goodness, I think this switch is broken," he said, and then looked around at the area. 

"Are we going to crash?" Jo asked what everyone was probably thinking, his eyes wide. 

"Well, no, I hope not.  I can just vent the hot air out of the balloon and we will descend, but we are not in a good place to land.  There are many trees here.  There are some fields about ten minutes in that direction, but the wind is not cooperating…"

Just then, Sir WHIP made a command decision and came to life in Jo's pocket.  He hoisted himself up and leapt into the air, swooped to the floor of the basket and made himself human-sized.

Nelson gasped, astonished at the sparkly orange dragon that stood before him, just about his height and build (without the tail of course). 

"Do not be alarmed, Nelson, I mean you no harm.  As a matter of fact, I think I might be able to help with this problem," Sir WHIP spoke as clearly as any human had ever spoken to him, Nelson thought, and accepted the 'hand' of the dragon for a shake.  "If it's fire you need, then fire you shall have," Sir WHIP said and aimed his snout toward the opening of the balloon envelope. 

Serious flames shot from Sir WHIP's nose and mouth, heating the air inside the balloon, which caused it to rise up over the trees into a gentle wind current that carried them in the direction Nelson had pointed to when talking about the fields. 

Soon they hovered over a field and Nelson vented the hot air out of the balloon to help it descend to the ground. 

The landing was soft, and in the matter of a few moments Beak drove up in the truck with the trailer. Andrea and Tina followed closely in Andrea's car so that there would be plenty of seats for their passengers. 

As soon as the balloon lines were securely fastened to the truck, Nelson helped Ro, Jo, Mom, and Dad out of the balloon's basket. 

Beak, Tina, and Andrea's jaws dropped at the sight of Sir WHIP, especially when he stretched out his wings to their full, sparkly orange span, and yawned after his exertion, ready for a nap in Jo's pocket during the ride back to the balloon's launch site. 

"Don't be alarmed," Nelson said to his friends.  "This is Sir WHIP, a friend of Ro and Jo's family, and he really saved the day today!"

When Tina, Beak and Andrea heard of Sir WHIP's heroic rescue of Nelson and the passengers, they hugged him and thanked them heartily. 

When the thank-yous were said to Sir WHIP, everyone pitched in to fold and pack the balloon back into its bag and load it onto the trailer to be bungeed in place.  While waiting for his friends, and helping when he could, Sir WHIP burped, and a puff of smoke naturally came out of his nose and mouth. 

"Excuse me," he said, remembering his manners.

"I'm glad you didn't burp on board the balloon, Sir WHIP," Jo teased.  "There's no smoking aboard!" 

Nelson and his crew laughed, and then, the work finished, everyone piled into the vehicles and headed back to Mom and Dad's car. 

Later in the fort, Ro wrote down every detail about the hot air balloon adventure in the Team RoJo Family Journal as Sir WHIP napped after his big, heroic day.

TD  9-10-2016

Monday, September 5, 2016


Ro and Jo hurried to the bathroom, brushing teeth, using the toilet, washing faces, and then it was back to their rooms to get dressed.  When they finally headed toward the kitchen, stashing their backpacks next to the front door, they hadn't noticed yet, the view through the window. 
Ro was almost finished microwaving French Toast sticks for herself and Jo when she happened to glance out the door window.  She almost dropped the plate in her hands; she was so surprised!
"Jo! Look!" she said, sitting her plate on the table and stepping to the door to look out, blinking her eyes to make sure there wasn't something wrong with them. 
Jo joined her by the door, and his mouth dropped open in amazement when he looked around at the yard. 
Dad had already let Brie and Kato outside, and of course they are black and white dogs.  However, this morning, they were hard to locate out in the yard because they blended in! 
The whole yard and sky were black and white and gray only!  Not a spot of color anywhere!  
"What's going on?" Jo said, opening the inside door, and then the storm door for the dogs to come in.  Kato looked a little confused, last through the door, as he checked back over his shoulder.  Everything looked funny to him to, and Ro petted him gently, reading his thoughts, and understanding how weirded out he was – because she was too. 
And then she thought about it.  "I'll bet I know.  Something's up with the fairies." 
"Fairies?" Jo said.
"Of course.  I have an idea.  But first we need to eat breakfast.  There won't be much time." 
The children ate quickly, rinsed their dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher.  They still had about thirty-five minutes before the bus arrived.  "I think we have enough time," Ro said, dragging her brother out the back door and into the Team RoJo fort. 
She rubbed her hands over the crystal ball as she'd seen Grandma Crystal do so many times, and suddenly mists inside began to swirl as the ball came to life. 
Ro closed her eyes and thought, "I want to be back in the Royal Woods of Rosieland, with BEN Owl, Jo, and Kato.  I want to land at the Fairy Tree where Tasha, Sasha, and Kasha live."
It only took a half-second, before Ro, Jo, (and Kato who'd sat down between the children just as Ro had made her transportation request to the crystal ball) to materialize beside the very special tree in the Rosieland Royal Woods. 
Jo smiled.  "Wow!  Is that a fairy door?" he asked, just as BEN Owl swooped through the trees and perched on a gray branch above them.
 "Well, this is disturbing," he said, looking around the gray, black, and white woods, looking unhappy. 
"Yep! That's a fairy door," Ro said to her brother, as she very lightly tapped on the door – regular knocking and regular human voices hurt tiny fairy ears, Ro explained to her brother and Kato. "Hello, BEN Owl, we came here through the crystal ball to find out what's going on.  We hope the painter fairies aren't sick or anything." 
Just as Ro finished her very quiet sentence, the little door swung open, and a real live fairy stepped out of it.  Jo almost said "wow!" out loud, but caught himself and whispered it. 
Sasha smiled and fluttered into the air with her sparkly little fairy wings, to hover next to Ro's cheek and give her old friend a kiss.  "Tasha used to love finding your teeth under your pillow!  She said they were the whitest and cleanest teeth she ever collected!"  Sasha spun around in mid-air and kissed Jo's cheek as well.  "And yours too, Prince Joseph!"  Then she swooped up to give a kiss to her old friend BEN Owl. 
"Umm, it's just Jo now, since we've moved away from Rosieland and become part of Team RoJo," Jo said, and Sasha smiled a big, fat smile.  "All the fairies are proud of you both!" she said, and dropped low to land on Kato's head and scratch behind his ears.  "Both of you and all your friends too!" 
"That's sweet. Please tell Tasha and Kasha we said hello and sent our love," Ro said, and then she looked around her.  "Notice anything a little…off?"
Sasha looked around and smiled.  "Of course!  Everything is black, white, and gray.  No color." 
"Are the painter fairies sick or something?" Ro asked, knowing that there were thousands and thousands of fairies all over the world, and that they all had jobs to do – magical jobs. 
"Would you believe they're on strike?" Sasha said, surprising the children.  
"On strike?" Jo said, eyebrows raised and eyes wide.  "What does that mean?"
Ro explained, "When people who don't like something about their jobs, something that's really bad, like not enough pay or something dangerous that their managers don't fix to make it safer, they stop working until changes are made.  They walk around in a circle with signs – that's called picketing – to make everyone understand what they are unhappy about.  Usually the bosses and the workers get together and talk about the problems and try to agree on how to make things right." 
"Very good, Ro.  How do you know so much about strikes?" Sasha said. 
"We learned about it in Social Studies," Ro answered.  "What are the fairies unhappy about?" 
"Oh, you know, the usual stuff.  The young whippersnapper fairies are sloppy and don't want to listen to the senior fairies.  They all fly around saying, "A done thing is better than a perfect thing," and they just spray magical plant paint everywhere; sometimes they even splatter the sky when they are at the tops of trees.  Can you imagine?!  The older fairies want separate trainers to work with the younger ones because dragging trainees out with them slows them down from an already huge and difficult job.  Plus, some of the young fairies are disrespectful to the older fairies who have learned a lot but the younger fairies want to learn things for themselves.  There's nothing wrong with that, except that they don't need to be snarky and rude to older fairies who are just trying to help them and make things easier."
"Wow, I didn't know fairy life was so complicated," Ro said, and Jo nodded too.   
"Yes, well, nothing is perfect.  It's hard work, even using magic, to keep the world beautiful and healthy.  Especially with so many humans working against us – like using oil products instead of solar power, for instance.  Even fairy wings are solar powered!"
"Your wings are powered by the sun?" Jo said. 
"Sure!  Our whole bodies are!" Sasha replied. 
"That's cool!" Ro said. "Dad says it's all about the money with humans.  Oil makes a lot of money, and that's all everyone cares about."
"Maybe, but it's really messing up the air, soil, and especially water," Sasha said, and then smiled and flitted around in the air, forgetting the serious conversation when she saw fairies spinning and darting about plants, instantly turning them many shades of green, flowers many shades of pink, purple, yellow, white, and red.  And gradually the sky turned a light blue with little white puffs of cloud scudding across it. 
"Yes!" she said, clapping in mid-air.  The fairies and bosses must have come to an agreement!  Yay!"  As she hovered in mid-air before Ro and Jo's eyes, she spun toward them and said, "The strike is over, so the fairies will have a lot of catch-up work to do.  I have to go now!  Come and visit again soon, okay?"
Ro and Jo nodded and said, "Sure! Can't wait!" and Sasha gave them a thumbs up then turned and flew away so fast it was almost as if she disappeared.
As Ro and Jo and Kato felt themselves swirled into the mists of the crystal ball, they could see trees and flowers, back yards, houses, and farms, all begin to burst into color. 
"I didn't know the fairies painted the whole world every single night," Jo said as they popped out of the crystal ball into their fort.
"I don't think they do; I think they just touch up the color each night.  They probably made everything black and white to show the bosses how important their jobs are, and how boring the world would be without them.  I think that's called a bargaining chip."  Ro said.
"Well, I'm glad they got their problems figured out and everything is settled.  I like the sky blue and the grass green," Jo said, hurrying out of the fort and into the yard where he rolled in the green grass with a tail-wagging Kato.  "Green, green, green!" he said, giggling as Kato jumped on him and slurped his chin. 
"Me too, and now whenever we see fairies, we can thank them for all their hard work," Ro said, sniffing a bright pink bloom on a rose bush by the fence.   
"Yeah, we sure can!" Jo said, smiling, and beside him Kato let out a happy little bark.  "Because everyone likes to know they are appreciated."